District discusses Linda Nolen Center’s failure to make AYP

A focus on providing education to Shelby County children with special needs may place Pelham’s Linda Nolen Learning Center at a disadvantage when judged for the No Child Left Behind program, said Shelby County Schools spokeswoman Cindy Warner.

The Learning Center, which focuses on special-needs children, did not achieve the program’s Adequate Yearly Progress goals during the 2009-2010 school year in reading and math proficiency.

The school also did not meet AYP for its graduation rate. As a result of not achieving AYP in the three categories, the Learning Center will enter its third year under the School Improvement Status.

Because the Linda Nolen Learning Center serves children with “significant special needs,” and is held to the same standards as every other public school in the county, reaching AYP goals has historically been challenging for the school, Warner said.

“That school is always going to have challenges in reaching AYP each year,” Warner said, noting the No Child Left Behind program will require 100 percent AYP compliance by 2014.

“The students at the Linda Nolen Learning Center have more significant disabilities than some of the other students, but they are held to the same standard as every other school,” Warner added. “We are implementing strategies to try and help them as much as we possibly can.”

The Shelby County School District has taken steps to address the school’s AYP deficiencies for the past few years, but each year brings stricter AYP guidelines to schools across the nation, Warner said.

“It’s almost getting to the point where it sounds good in theory to say that no child is going to be left behind,” Warner said. “But the program does not take into account that there are students with more special challenges than others.

“I’m not saying we don’t recognize the challenges and expect the very best from all of our teachers and all of our students, but it’s almost unrealistic and unattainable to expect every student to be performing on a perfect level,” Warner added.

As a result of the AYP scores, the district is planning to put a greater focus on special education, math and reading programs at the Linda Nolen Learning Center and throughout the county, Warner said.

“We are putting all of the strategies we have in place to help them,” Warner said. “There are specific things we can do to help, but the Linda Nolen Learning Center will always have the challenge of being the only school in the county that primarily serves students with significant special needs.

“We have made improvements, but under the standards of No Child Left Behind, it’s like they are saying good wasn’t good enough,” Warner added. “That’s like a slap in the face to all the students and the teachers that worked so hard to help us improve.”